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Re: What would an "An Official" GNU Emacs Book look like?

From: Stephen J. Turnbull
Subject: Re: What would an "An Official" GNU Emacs Book look like?
Date: Thu, 21 May 2015 12:20:59 +0900

Richard Stallman writes:

 > > On the "political" bookshelf I would think the most important
 > > book missing (?) is the book about the iPhone, Android,
 > > etc. hysteria which have turned millions of would-be independent
 > > computer users into mere consumers with no own activity or
 > > creativity whatsoever to it.
 > I agree that is a good topic to write about.
 > It would be good to show how nonfree software is at the root of this
 > wrong.

No, it wouldn't, because it simply isn't true.  Those of us who care
have already rooted our phones, and the demand for freedom has forced
even Apple to back down from its original draconian restrictions on
programming languages for iOS.  (Just a small win, but it's real.)

But the "millions" (actually, nearly a billion) were *never* "would-be
independent computer users, they were consumers *before* they had
smartphones, and now they are consumers *with* smartphones."  That is
a pain I live with every working day, teaching in an "engineering"
school where most students think of software as a tool like a
soldering iron.  They have equal interest in producing the two kinds
of tool, except as forced to.  Having the software they work with be
"free" wouldn't help.  For my engineering economics students, though
Wikipedia is free, they don't contribute, though many of them have
something to contribute.  R is free, they don't even write R programs
for their research beyond what's necessary to access data and canned
routines.  But they love their smartphones, much as Emacs users love
their control keys (and with about as much concern for the insides,
unless they spill coffee on them)!

I really don't see how we can make progress if we don't accept the
fact that the vast majority of human beings are consumers of software
who gladly trade software freedom for the "freedom" to play Angry
Birds and listen to itunes for $1 each.  When I was a kid in 1969, a
vinyl "single" cost about $2 in current dollars; with inflation, it
would be $12.87 today -- iTunes is a very good deal if you ignore the
cost in freedom, and they do.  The RIAA, MPAA, and BSA are gnats
compared to that vast sea of indifference.  It is the sea of
indifference that enables the pressure groups to have the influence on
law that they do.

It is the existing indifference that enables non-free software.  It is
not that the non-free software creates the indifference.

 >   > It would rather (it "won't" rather) be a book with
 >   > your attitude to technology, what is appealing and how
 >   > you approached it, and your whole experience with it.
 > To the extent I have something to say about that, I said it in the
 > speech I gave in Sweden in the late 80s.  A transcript of that was
 > published.

You've written, improved, and instigated a lot of software and its
documentation, and at least advocated free hardware, in the 25 years
since that speech.  No?  It is a shame you have nothing to say about
those years.  Perhaps Emanuel could edit the book as a collection of
essays, organize your colleagues to contribute to it, and title it
"GNU-tiful Code" or "Just for the Freedom to Do It".

Both of these book proposals are important, and I'm disappointed that
you are so dismissive.  The original proposal matters because the
current crop of Emacs documentation is making no inroads into the sea
of indifference.  True, the Excel-tutorial-du-jour books suck, but we
can't afford to sink to that level because we can't depend on Emacs to
sell books.  We need to write books that will sell Emacs.  Difficult,
especially as we can't afford to hire the skills of a a Tracy Kidder
or Michael Lewis to ghostwrite) but if somebody volunteers to try, we
should support them.  (Yes, me too -- I said "'bye" because he's
acting like a selfish twit, but if he produces a manuscript or even a
proper proposal and posts an URL here, I *will* review it.  I just
don't have the time to be on yet another mailing list, and I do read
this list.  Daily.)

Emanuel's proposal matters even more, because the people who have
written about the joy of hacking aren't you.  The "Cathedral and
Bazaar" series, "Beautiful Code", "Just for Fun", even "The Mythical
Man-Month", all discuss it, often eloquently.  Surely you don't think
they represent software freedom's point of view!  Only you can decide
what deserves your time, but I think consideration of this book does,
even if you eventually decide not to do it.

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